Monday, February 21, 2011

PAVE discusses sexual assault myths from "Law & Order"

On Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011 at 7 PM, Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE) screened an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” called “Confrontation.” Post the viewing, PAVE hosted discussion about the portrayal of, among other things, rape and stalking.

“Confrontation” opens with the rape of Elizabeth held at knifepoint. She soon confronts her rapist with a club and starts to hit him. Detective Stabler, lead detective for the Special Victims Unit, eventually finds her dead in an alley. Her murder sparks an intense investigation into a series of rapes in the Brooklyn area. During the investigation, the SVU discovers the victim had been stalked by her rapist and was likely rape more than once. This holds true with the rapist’s other victims. Throughout the episode, his other two victims encounter a lot of turmoil, including one, Gina, committing suicide. Eventually Luke Dixon, an office assistant at the realtor’s office his victims were renting through, is arrested for his heinous crimes. It is later uncovered that he rapes women to impregnate and thus create a master race.

All of the students found “Confrontation” disturbing, especially its pervasive stereotypes. The first myth the show encourages: victims do not know their attackers. This is false. Around 90 percent of rapes occur by someone close to the survivor—an acquaintance, a friend or partner. Myth number two: survivors cannot be raped more than once. This, too, is false, especially since rape survivors are at least twice (and even as high as four times) more likely to be raped again, with people caught in a cycle of domestic violence often experiencing repeated rape. Myth three: rape is only rape when it’s violent. Only 10 percent of rapists use extreme force and/or a weapon. The fourth myth the students remarked on was the show’s notion that there is only one way to “get over” being raped: anger. There is no one or right way to cope with being assaulted; every victim is different, every victim wants and needs different things. Saying there is only one way to heal adds to the victim blaming that often occurs.

Although the students were upset with the episode’s myths, they did remark on its highlights. For instance, “SVU” did a good job of portraying that rape is not about sex, but instead about power and control (although “Confrontation” did say it was about power and rage, which perpetuates the image of rape as angry and violent). In addition, the episode did an excellent job of showing how under-reported rape is because of victim’s fear of not being believed. The episode even touched on victim blaming, showcasing that it is not always men who blame women (who are the primary victims) for the rape. That said, students were upset that victim-blaming occurred in the first place.

Stalking was another crime featured in the episode. Students remarked that it was barely touched on, and even though it occurred, it was sensationalized and suggested that all stalkers are psychopaths. This is a falsehood some people would like viewers to believe, when in fact more than 75 percent of victims are stalked by someone they know, while 30 percent of victims are stalked by current or former intimate partners.

By portraying rape and stalking in sensationalized ways, the media perpetuates myths and stereotypes about these two topics. This is not to say that all media does this, and therefore that media is bad. However, one needs to use a critical eye and hear when the media talks about said issues; enabling stereotypes only covers up the reality.

-Cara Dorzok

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Men needed to win fight against domestic violence

There are countless stereotypes associated with domestic violence, but one of the most common has to be that it is a crime solely perpetrated against women. While there is some merit to this thought, it is not completely true. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 73 percent of domestic violence victims are female. Of course, this means that 27 percent are male, and yet when people think about domestic violence, the image of a strong man beating up a weak woman is typically what comes to mind.

This notion yields a negative consequence: By suggesting that women are the only victims of domestic abuse, society believes it is women’s problem to solve. Hopefully people realize this isn’t true, but the stereotype has sunk in enough that there is a noticeable gap in the number of women and number of men actively volunteering in victim advocacy and violence prevention.

At Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), men are some of our most vital volunteers. In our commitment to educate the campus about the realities of domestic/dating violence, our male volunteers often take a leading role, writing editorials or leading a class that delves into the specifics of such crimes. I’ve witnessed firsthand that the difference men can make is profound, yet there is a gap in the gender of our volunteers.

There are a number of possible reasons for this. Social connotations are definitely one of them. Contrary to what some people may feel, it is not sissy or feminine to work for an organization like PAVE. After all, isn’t the idea of men protecting women a theme we constantly see in the media? This is not to say men should be the shields protecting women, but they can most certainly stand by women’s sides and help to end the suffering.

Another stereotype preventing male participation is the belief that their help isn’t welcome, that a man’s involvement is a perpetrator’s involvement. This is simply not true. It is no more fair to men that they are constantly labeled abusers than it is to women that they are constantly labeled victims.

People like to think in black and white, but for most situations, including this one, narrow definitions don’t fit. We know the vast majority of men are anti-violence and don’t practice it in their relationships. This routine awareness could be channeled into violence prevention, but because of these labels, it rarely is.

Perhaps the ultimate reason men (and women, for that matter) are hesitant to be active in this endeavor is because the task of eliminating violence is daunting. Tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, “Psst, don’t hit your partner!” rarely yields the effects we would like, and when your gender has been stereotyped as abusive, it can be easiest to just ignore the situation. When this holds true, it is best to start with an approachable and doable first step.

This is what Ben Atherton-Zeman does. For a crime that can feel so massive, Ben narrows domestic violence down to what someone at UW-Madison might see or experience. Taking situations that are far too familiar, Ben dissects the ways victims and those around them may react when confronted with the reality of dating violence.

He also touches on the imperfect system of support most victims encounter when seeking both personal and legal help. All of this is meant to shed light on an often-silenced issue and encourage people to do something about it.

None of this is meant to imply that if you don’t get involved with violence prevention you’re ignorant or don’t care about these issues. That’s obviously not true. And while we at PAVE would love nothing more than to see some smiling male faces in our office making buttons or at our events, we’d also be satisfied with knowing men are out there recognizing what the problem is and doing what they can in their everyday lives to make sure it doesn’t happen.

This general awareness and casual advocacy is what Ben’s message gets at. He’s not looking to create the next male head of PAVE, but rather day-to-day activists who speak up when they hear a wife-beating joke, intervene when they see an argument turn physical and support a victim when one comes to him for help. This widespread consciousness is what will ultimately eradicate domestic violence.

-Jacqueline O'Reilly

(as published in the Badger Herald on February 9, 2011)